Luray Caverns+ Cave co. opens new attraction two days after First Lady's visit

news-luraycavernscarillonThe 117-foot "singing tower" photographed Saturday, August 7, contains 47 bells..

Just two days after First Lady Michelle Obama and family members visited Monticello and the east coast's top cave, the company that operates Luray Caverns opened a new attraction showcasing local history.

With Lt. Governor Bill Bolling assisting, officials cut the ceremonial ribbon on the Luray Valley Museum. Public relations director John Shaffer says the grand opening date for the  museum that actually began operating in April was chosen as Saturday, August 14 because it's the 132nd anniversary of the Caverns' discovery.

The Obamas discovered it Thursday.

"I'm kind of limited in what I can tell," says Shaffer, who notes that the First Lady's group–- which he said included 9-year-old Sasha as well as some extended family–- spent about 20 minutes inside the Car and Carriage Caravan Museum and about an hour inside the main attraction.

Main attraction indeed. While the Luray Caverns Corporation has added features over the years, including an evergreen maze (which the Obamas skipped), the underground wonderland of stalagmites and stalactites not only grabbed precious First Family time, the Caverns also enjoy just under half a million annual visitors.

That puts Luray just behind Monticello (which earns about 460,000 visitors each year) at number 6 on his list of Virginia's top attractions. Though Shaffer says the Corporation declines to get more specific on Luray's annual head-count, he did answer this reporter's questions about something that's been removed from the Caverns in recent years: the plaque designating the so-called "Hawes Column."

For decades–- until about one decade ago, according to Shaffer–- a Washington D.C.-based scientist, Arthur Hawes, who had helped promote the massive subterranean complex in its early days, was honored with a plaque affixed to a stone formation. However, Shaffer says that company officials decided to keep the cave experience as natural as possible.

"We removed that plaque," says Shaffer. "We decided it kind of goes against our position as a National Natural Landmark. I'm sorry on your behalf."

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Isn't 460,000 just under half a million? You might want to be a bit more specific if you are going to draw that kind of comparison.

Hawes Cabinet is a room in the Caverns names after Hawes himself. The Hawes Column is a formation in that room, that Mr Hawes took a liking too. You may not find it in any of your research. Here you can see a picture of the column without the plaque attached.

Speaking of cool- the first air conditioned house in America was at the caverns.


In 1901, Colonel T.C. Northcott leased Luray Caverns and built a sanitarium, ââ?¬Å?Limair”, the first air-conditioned home in America by installing a shaft into a cavern chamber which was connected to the house above. The shaft, five feet in diameter, was sunk into a nearby chamber and an 42 inch fan was installed. Powered by a five horsepower electric motor, this fan changed the entire air of the house every four minutes. The cool, naturally purified underground air filled every room. The bacteria-free air, ideal for those with respiratory illnesses, was filtered through limestone which removed dust and pollen. On the hottest day in summer, the interior of the house is always a cool and comfortable 70 degrees.

I've heard that Hawes's "column" is a great natural wonder.

The plaque was taken down because the caverns are a natural registered landmark and the rules you are asked to follow as you enter is not to touch or deface the cave. So they took the plaque down to honor their own rules. It is stored in the archives at the caverns. The formation is still mentioned on the tour as an honor to Mr Hawes.

She arrived unannounce 2 days before the acutal ribbon cutting ceremony was scheduled. She probably did not even know that there was going to be a ribbon cutting to open the new attraction. She visited the caverns the same day she went to Monticello. Luray Caverns and Monticello are her daughters favorite 2 spots to visit in Virginia.

I understand that it was just a pit stop on the way to the "big house".

Her daughters favorite 2 spots to visit in Virginia? Gimme a break!

Next thing you'll tell me is that their father has actually created a job in this Country- not that it is his job, mind you, but it was his promise.

So what happened to the plaque? Does it hang inside the hook's headquarters or is it in some other cave?

In researching the geology of the caverns I cannot find any mention of a Hawes Column. What I did find was a Hawes Cabinet, which implies an interior space ( room ), instead of a formation. Can anyone confirm this ? Ashamed to say, I have never been here, but certainly from all I've read- sounds like a cool place to visit.

I'm curious, does anyone think the timing was a snub by a Republican administration to our democratic first lady ?

Nancy give it a rest already!

My thought was- that state and Luray officials - would see this as an opportunity to publicize the Luray Caverns. Certainly would have been a bigger news event nationally than a ribbon cut by Lt. Governor Bolling

Who said Shaffer was a Republican and what does that have to do with the story anyway? If you read the artical you can see that the plaque was taken down about a decade ago, not the day the First Lady came to visit. And Shaffer was speaking to a reporter not the First Lady.

Why should she cut the ribbon? She probably never even heard of Luray Caverns before she went there. The only reason she went there was to try and make up for her trip to Spain with 40 of her closest friends. It's best seen to go somewhere local after that, I imagine.

Not Shaffer, I was referring to this ( not the plaque), which is part to the story, or am I missing something: "With Lt. Governor Bill Bolling assisting, officials cut the ceremonial ribbon on the Luray Valley Museum." and see the headline - "Luray Caverns+ Cave co. opens new attraction two days after First Lady’s visit "--isn't that what First Lady's do - cut ribbons at ceremonial events ?